Graduates anticipate high workforce expectations

How nursing students feel about entering the field in a time of crisis

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Lucy Hobbs (back row, second from right) poses with other nursing students before the COVID-19 pandemic began. “I am so excited to start working and practicing as a nurse,” Hobbs said.

“I have never seen so much death in my life,” Lily Firkus, a fourth-year nursing student said. “I don’t want that to harden me.”

As COVID-19 cases are rising across the country, nursing students at UW-Eau Claire, graduating in Fall 2020 or Spring 2021, are preparing to enter the workforce during a pandemic. Students like Firkus said they are nervous but ready to enter the field.

Firkus, who will begin her first job on Feb. 15, said she has been doing an internship in an Intensive Care Unit and it has been emotionally difficult to see so much death. 

It is not just the deaths, but the many that have been rendered paralyzed due to life-saving efforts, that has taxed her spirit, Firkus said.

Despite a global pandemic, Firkus said over time she has developed so much empathy and care for others. She said she looks forward to even more learning and continued growth.

“I am very thrilled to be entering the field,” Firkus said.

Lucy Hobbs, a fourth-year nursing student, said a lot of the younger adults around her are not too concerned about getting the virus themselves. Many of the younger nurses she worked with in the hospital had a “we’re going to get it eventually” mentality.

Hobbs said she got COVID-19 from the hospital she worked at and her symptoms lasted almost two months. She is concerned something like this could happen again and take her out of commission for an extended period, since she has had it more than once.

“I did not want to get it because of the unknown long-term effects,” Hobbs said.

Daphne Gavin, a fourth-year nursing student, said her biggest fear is getting exposed to COVID-19 and spreading it to her family, especially ones that are immuno-compromised. 

“It’s not so much I am worried about myself, I’m worried about the people around me,” Gavin said.

Gavin said she thinks her peers feel a lot of anxiety about entering the field during the pandemic. She said there is also a lot of nervousness about not having any clinical experience before entering the real world.

Jessica Johnson, a fourth-year nursing student, said she feels her peers are not afraid of getting the virus and are ready to start helping.

Johnson is a second-degree student, which means she has graduated college once before in education. She said she empathizes with students who feel like they do not have experience, but you really don’t actually start knowing what to do until you get into your first job.

“It’s like you’re starting all over again,” Johnson said.

Johnson said she feels prepared to begin her career. However, even if she did have the clinical experience, she thinks she will still feel lost at first because that is how she felt when she started teaching.

Nicole Kuitunen, a fourth-year nursing student said, she feels anxious about being able to start working in a hospital. She said she and her peers see the profession struggling and burning out. 

“I just want to get out there and help,” Kuitunen said.

Since clinical experiences were cancelled because of the pandemic, curriculum and learning has shifted, Kuitunen said. Classes are all online and have been centered around simulations, self-reflections and discussions.

Kuitunen said one of her fears is that she won’t be able to make personal connections with patients, which is something she cherishes.

Despite the pandemic, Kuitunen said she looks forward to graduating in the spring of 2021. 

“I’m looking forward to getting out there and finally having autonomy in my practice and actually being able to help people,” Kuitunen said.

Plueger can be reached at p[email protected].